NFL offseason: Just how different will the Patriots secondary look in 2021?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Phil Perry
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Perry: The Pats' secondary could look very different in 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Devin McCourty put it plainly when he joined our Tom E. Curran on the Patriots Talk Podcast.

Change is coming. As in, change to the roster is coming.

"I think all of us, especially coming off a season where you don't have the success you want, you know things are going to change," he said. "I said that probably four or five times at the end of last year. Things are gonna change. Things change anyway in the NFL, whether you win or lose. But when you lose in a way that no one's used to, things are definitely gonna change."

But just how different will things look where McCourty and his defensive back teammates make their living? There's the potential for the change to which McCourty alluded to be eye-opening in the secondary.

Curran: Identifying building blocks for the Patriots' defense

Let's first dig into where the Patriots defense stood compared to other clubs across the league last year. The team finished 26th in defensive DVOA, allowing 67.4 percent completions (23rd) and 7.5 yards per attempt (24th). While those numbers would indicate the Patriots were a bottom-third pass defense, they also ranked eighth in pass yards allowed per game, ninth in quarterback rating and 14th in Pro Football Focus coverage grade.

The secondary in 2020 was a serviceable group, no doubt, especially considering the team was seventh in the NFL in points allowed.

But ... those changes ... 

Let's start with the obvious: Stephon Gilmore could be moved. The Patriots took a chunk of his 2021 pay and used it to give him a raise for 2020. But he's now scheduled to play for a far-below-market-value base salary of $7 million next season. 

Does he want to play for that figure? Or would the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year like to be paid something closer to the top-end players at his position, who are paid closer to $20 million dollars than they are to $10 million? Will Gilmore end up being moved for a draft pick? Will he be packaged in a deal that lands the Patriots a quarterback? 

Patriots Talk Podcast: Do the Patriots need to lock up J.C. Jackson before another team swoops in? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

An extension isn't out of the question; the Patriots have over $60 million in cap space. It's just a question of whether or not something can be worked out.

Jason McCourty, meanwhile, will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason after having started 11 games -- most of those opposite Gilmore. Though he may like the idea of returning to play with his brother Devin for another season, there's no guarantee at the moment that will happen. 

Then there's the curious case of JC Jackson. As a restricted free agent, the Patriots could give him a first-round tender which would pay him right around $5 million for the 2021 season. Easy, right? 

Well as a restricted free agent, teams will be able to offer Jackson a free-agent contract knowing that the Patriots could match it. If they opted not to match, then they'd receive Jackson's new club's first-round pick. 

Given Jackson's skill set and his production when it comes to intercepting the football -- he has 14 picks over the last two years -- he may have real interest elsewhere. If a lucrative contract comes his way, then it'd be up to the Patriots to determine whether or not they want a) the draft-pick return after tendering Jackson or b) the player who could end up as their No. 1 corner if Gilmore is out of the mix. 

Matt Cassel: Patriots will have to pay 'premium' to sign free agents

1613007512

If all three -- Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jackson -- were to move on this offseason, they'd take with them over 2,000 snaps from last year. Jonathan Jones is the lone corner of the team's top four at the position last season who looks locked in to a significant role.

At safety, the Patriots cupboard should be well-stocked. Not only should Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips all be back with key gigs, but Patrick Chung is expected to return as well. Chung signed a two-year extension last year and would leave over $6 million in dead money if not on the team.

The last time the Patriots had the kind of cap space they have at the moment, more than $60 million, they went out and signed Gilmore on Day 1 of the new league year. Might a similar scenario be in play this season? Especially if cornerback is looking like a real need come March?

Joejuan Williams, a second-rounder in 2019, remains under contract. Same goes for last year's impressive undrafted rookie Myles Bryant. But with the futures of three of the team's top four corners still up in the air, the "change" Devin McCourty referenced on the Patriots Talk Podcast could end up being significant in the secondary.